Alabama's 10 Players to Watch vs. Kent State
Kent State won't threaten to beat Alabama as long as Alabama shows up and plays football the way they have been taught. Additionally, the coaching staff will stick to their bread-and-butter offensive and defensive game plans. Kent State is a live opponent and the hitting will be live, so here are 10 players to keep an eye on next week.
Some may not be household names that you are familiar with, but these are players who have the opportunity and potential to become stars at Alabama and take their games to the next level.
Sophomore A.J. McCarron has playing experience from 2010 when he served as the No. 2 QB; this season he attempts to grab the No. 1 spot.
McCarron's strengths are his knowledge of the system and a very live arm. He can make all the throws and his deep ball is the most dangerous we have seen at Alabama since Brody Croyle.
Going into this season he was the odds-on favorite to win the job, but the jury appears to be hung.
McCarron's weakness is a slender frame; he also doesn't appear as effective when under pressure.
Redshirt freshman Phillip Sims hails from Virginia, where he is the leading passer in state history. With no live playing experience, he was expected to lose the battle this year for the starting job, but it appears he has beaten the odds. The competition for the starting job may continue on into the season. No matter what happens, it's a sure bet he will see significant playing time.
Sims's strengths are a quicker release, more mobility and the fact that he is better under pressure than McCarron. He appears to be built more solidly, though the ability to take a lick isn't always visible. Who would have thought Greg McElroy or John Parker Wilson could take the beatings they often did?
Sims's weaknesses include having no real game experience and being less of a threat as a deep passer.
The answer to who will quarterback Alabama against Arkansas probably won't come against Kent State, but it will be our first chance to see where both quarterbacks are.
Quarterback-runner-receiver Blake Sims arrived at Alabama as a quarterback who was expected to immediately switch to defensive back. That didn't happen as expected.
Alabama coaches found him to be so ridiculously dangerous with the ball in their hands that they left him on offense.
Sims is not an elite talent at quarterback, but is well capable of playing Division 1 football at the position. Thus, he is Alabama's actual third-string quarterback. Phillip Eli will be listed as the third, but the staff would rather redshirt him this year.
No way the staff leaves this loaded gun on the shelf, however. He will most likely play running back this season and he may take some of the snaps that would have earlier gone to injured running back Dee Hart.
Wildcat is an option; taking snaps, taking pitches or splitting out wide. Sims may return kicks as well. The bottom line is the staff wants to get the football into this guy's hands and see what happens.
DeAndrew White, from Galena Park, Texas, was one of the top prospects in the nation in 2010. He was rated a 4-star receiver, but may have been close to 5 with several legendary camp performances.
Last season, though, they wanted to redshirt White. The decision got really difficult, but they stuck to their guns and kept this weapon under the burlap.
With Julio Jones gone and regular Darius Hanks ineligible for a few weeks, DeAndrew White would not be denied his shot.
The one consistent tid-bit that has leaked from fall camp from Day 1 is that DeAndrew White can't be kept under wraps any longer; Kent State is going to be the first team to feel his return to the game. Hopefully while Hanks is awaiting his clearance, White can establish himself as a co-starter along with Maze.
Michael Williams is the only former starter on this list.
With any quarterback change comes the redistribution of the football. Alabama no longer has Julio Jones as a default target and none of the other receivers will draw as much attention individually as Julio.
Michael Williams is a freakishly athletic 6'6", 269-pounder, who can block and is a good receiver. Last season was his first to start, but he was rarely thrown to, only catching eight passes for 100 yards. That is a 12.5-yard-per-catch average, though.
With a new quarterback behind center, is there a better hot route than to toss it to this guy and watch tacklers struggle to pull him down? If anything it will tire them out; these same guys have to deal with Trent Richardson coming off the edge.
Alabama needs to find Michael Williams and get him the ball. Hopefully whoever ends up being quarterback will do exactly that.
Cyrus Kouandjio may or may not play this season. He clearly earned the second-team left tackle spot as a true freshman, which is impressive enough. If he can be counted on this season to hold that spot, it would allow the staff to move Barrett Jones to guard. Jones is an All-American guard and it would force Warmack and Steen to bring it every week or face Jones taking their place.
In the event of injury it would also give the staff more options.
If Kouandjio gets in the game it's a sure sign the staff wants him playing this year if he can play consistently enough. I'm not sure how much we will be able to tell from Kent State, but we can at least get a view of his footwork.
Hasean Clinton-Dix was an Under Armour All-American Rivals 5-star recruit. Along with Kouandjio, he was the crowning jewel of the 2011 signing class.
Alabama has an insanely deep secondary this year with vast experience across the board. Many, however, will be playing their final season for Alabama and with good reports out of camp there is little chance Clinton Dix will redshirt.
While it is unlikely he will start any games this year, he will get valuable reps to prepare him for possibly starting duty next year. Hasean is a natural safety who is fast and skilled enough to play corner. His eventual position is unknown, but look for him to play some nickle and the star position this season.
If he gets in the game, keep and eye on him to see a bit of the future.
Unless you have stood next to Quinton Dial (which I have), you really don't get a grasp of just how huge this young man is. Only Quinton could make 6'6", 294 pounds, look skinny. This guy has big hands, big feet—he's as big as an NFL lineman and he appears to have room to grow.
Dial signed with Alabama and initially failed to qualify. After two years he worked his way back to campus. He struggled through an adjustment period this spring while learning not only about the defense, but also about the specific requirements of Alabama's conditioning program.
He has emerged as a starting candidate for the end position. Dial will definitely play, if not start. Keep an eye on him to see what sort of problems he can cause.
One thing we know for sure: Courtney Upshaw is playing his last season in Tuscaloosa. Alabama needs to find his replacement. Last year's guy, Ed Stinson, didn't have the quickness and eventually moved to defensive end where he has played well and may start.
There is no information on how the Jack position will shake out, but one candidate that should be near the top is Adrian Hubbard, a redshirt freshman from Norcross Georgia. Hubbard arrived as a towering 6'7", 225-pound defensive end. Since then he has bulked up to 255 pounds and should be able to make a push against offensive tackles.
Senior Alex Watkins might be the guy this season, but he is recovering from a serious knee injury and will not be back after this season.
Alabama may play others, such as Anthony Orr, William Ming or even a true freshman or two like D.J. Pettway or Xzavier Dickson, but a redshirt season is more likely for them.
Alabama stole a real jewel of a linebacker from the troubled Ohio State recruiting base and if they were mad before, they were furious when they saw him play this spring. Trey DePriest has the look of the next great middle linebacker at Alabama. Having Dant'a Hightower, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley on the same team is almost unfair as it is. Adding DePriest is downright obscene.
It won't be obscene next year, however, as Alabama will lose three starters for sure, in addition to seniors Alex Watkins and Chris Jordan. If you want to get a glimpse of the 2012 season, make sure to keep your eyes on No. 33.